Accessory dwelling unit as a detached cottage
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A detached cottage accessory dwelling unit adjacent to a home.

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If accessory dwelling units are to be allowed on more residential lots, they should be attached to existing homes with the owners living on the premises, the Colorado Springs City Council suggested Monday.

The ideas were raised at the council work session, one of several meetings expected as city officials slow-walk the controversial proposal meant to encourage infill in the fast-growing city.

But the group, which has mixed feelings about the proposal, stopped short of offering more suggestions because two members were absent. Council President Richard Skorman said the issue is too important to discuss without a full roster in attendance.

The council agreed to pick up the issue again in two weeks.

But at least those details are settled, said Councilman Wayne Williams, who sought to allay concerns that “mini Marriotts” will spring up in every neighborhood “with some corporate entity owning it.”

“This council’s not going that way,” Williams said after a majority of council members voted for the two suggestions. “We’re gonna say the owner has to live there, and it’s got to be integrated.”

It’s a complex issue that’s generated much negative reaction in recent months. Many council members said they’ve received an outpouring of opposition. Councilman Andy Pico said the ratio could be as much as 5-to-1 against.

But Councilwoman Jill Gaebler said much of that negativity likely stems from fear-mongering by local voices, including media. The reality, she said, holds many benefits.

Accessory dwelling units are essentially second homes built on a property where a home already exists. They can be built as standalone buildings or attached to existing structures.

The proposed ordinance would allow ADUs to be built in lots zoned for single families, whereas now they’re only allowed in lots zoned for two or multiple families, special use and intermediate businesses.

The change would encourage infill in a continually sprawling city, Gaebler has said. It also would add affordable housing options, which are already in short supply, and offer property owners the ability to use their land according to their wishes.

Some have expressed fears that such an ordinance would change the very face of neighborhoods with an influx of renters and additions, but Gaebler said others support the issue. And with proper vetting, renters as neighbors can be as good as homeowners, she said.

“We should move this conversation from fear or anxiety around renters to the positive aspects,” Gaebler said.

Another aspect to be considered, Pico said, is that a blanket change to the city’s single-family lots is essentially a breach of contract with homeowners.

“You’re changing the zoning on things that have been established for a long, long time, and I say that’s a foul,” Pico said. “They bought it with certain expectations… you really are betraying what people bought their houses for.”

But Gaebler argued that the council makes land use decisions all the time, even when some are unhappy with the outcome.

The conversation waded into familiar waters and stopped short before the council settled on many new decisions.

With such heavy public interest, council members have decided to hold several non-binding work sessions, and perhaps several town halls, before taking a final vote. Throughout that process, city staff will tweak the ordinance as needed or directed.

Shortly after Monday’s conversation started, Councilman Dave Geislinger stepped out for a professional obligation. Councilwoman Yolanda Avila was absent because she is at a state and local government program hosted by Harvard.

As city staff asked the council for guidance as to how the proposal might be tweaked, the first question caused waves.

Should ADUs be allowed in lots zoned for single families?

The proposal also would allow ADUs in other commercial lots, but most would be on single-family lots.

Four of the seven members present voted against the proposal outright, with Gaebler and Skorman in favor and Williams on the fence. Such a slim majority caused reservations with Skorman, though, who noted that the results might be different with the entire council present, and holding to Monday’s result could effectively kill the proposal.

He asked to postpone remaining questions, but not before the group agreed that if ADUs are allowed on existing lots, they should not be detached, and the property owner should live on site.

After that the group agreed to wait two more weeks. At that time the council likely will answer the first question and discuss a size limit for any new ADUs and a minimum lot size for owners seeking to build such an addition.

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